In the James Cameron film Titanic, the main characters are fictional. The backdrop is authentic, but there is no truth in the love story of Jack and Rose, and as members of the audience, gobbling up our popcorn, we accept it. Something different happens when Gibbs takes the stories of these two very real men and crafts a very large story from some tiny bits of truth. As a tennis fan, I was interested in learning the true story of Behr and Williams but spent a lot of time trying to figure out what that was, instead of just enjoying the story. She writes a particularly dramatic scene when Behr and Williams are on the Carpathia. I had hoped that one was true, but it turned out to be primarily fictional. We know they spoke, and that Behr was "nice" to Williams, but the remainder of the well-crafted scene was entirely fiction. Gibbs finally breaks down the truth/fiction barrier in the "Author's Notes" at the back of the book. Had I read that first, I would have felt a little less manipulated. The story is entertaining and well-written, but I was left with that same feeling I get from Oliver Stone movies. It was fun, and I know there is truth in there somewhere, but it's intentionally blurred for dramatic effect.
Perhaps ironically, Gibbs's book might be most appreciated by non-tennis fans who frankly don't care if a match in 1914 played out exactly the way it was narrated here. The description of the author's research method is hazy, particularly for some matches, many of which seem reconstructed based only on the final score. For serious fans of the game, I can recommend this book as an entertaining read with some insight into tennis culture in the early 20th century. Just be clear going in, you are learning about a fictional version of Behr and Williams.
Book cover image courtesy of New Chapter Press